Stiftung Mercator support enables Dahrendorf Symposium on Climate Change

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, was among panellists at the 2013 Dahrendorf Symposium, entitled ‘Changing the European Debate: Focus on Climate Change’. The Symposium, which took place at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in November, brought together leading international thinkers from academia, politics, economy, civil society and media.

A joint initiative of LSE, the Hertie School of Governance and Stiftung Mercator, the Symposium was created in 2011 in honour of Lord Dahrendorf, Director of LSE from 1974 to 1984, aiming to exemplify how academia can have a productive influence on socio-political discourse and offering European perspectives on the most pressing global challenges of our time. The theme reflects both Lord Dahrendorf’s understanding of the duty of the intellectual to ‘pose the questions that otherwise no-one dares to ask’ and his consistent focus on Europe as the ultimate space with the potential to achieve real and relevant democracy and an ‘open society’. 

Funding from Stiftung Mercator, one of the largest private foundations in Germany, and which includes Climate Change among its three defining ‘thematic clusters’, not only facilitated the hosting of the Symposium, but also funded five Dahrendorf Postdoctoral fellows and one Dahrendorf PhD fellow, based at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute, the Hertie School, and the Mercator Research Institute on Climate Change and Common Goods (MCC) in Berlin.

This year the Symposium was divided between five working groups, each of which held a panel or roundtable discussion on how best to address the challenges within their specialised topics: Infrastructure and Climate Change; Governance and Policy Aspects of Climate Change; Social and Legal Aspects of Climate Change; Economics and Climate Change; and Europe and the World.

Attendees in Berlin included Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice; Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action; Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Energy; and LSE Director, Professor Craig Calhoun. LSE academics present included Professor Conor Gearty, Professor of Human Rights Law and Professor Arne Westad, Director of LSE IDEAS. 

Professor Westad, co-chair of the Europe and the World roundtable, considers the Symposium a fitting tribute to Lord Dahrendorf. “I think he would be happy to see the School and the research he was closely connected to in Germany come together to try and find ways of dealing with the challenges thrown up by climate change, from a social science perspective,” he said in a video recorded for the Symposium. “If he had been around today, he would have been a very spirited and forward looking participant in the debates we’re having on the social effect of climate change.” 

Professor Gearty, who led the working group on the social and legal aspects of climate change, explained the relevance of human rights to the debate. “Climate change looks as if it will cause disproportionate harm to the poor, particularly from developing countries – the very people who have very little, if any, responsibility for its effects,” he said. “So what human rights can bring is this new idea of climate justice – why should the generations of the already impoverished pay the price of reckless behaviour of the powerful in the past?”

Professor Gearty explained how Europe could potentially hold the key to unlocking meaningful solutions to the issues surrounding climate change. “Europe stands for a realistic ideal, and that is regional cooperation to challenge this terrifying phenomenon. It is terrifying because it appears uncontrollable but regional connected up co-operative states operating together can both reduce the impact of climate change, control it and perhaps most importantly make it seem manageable and give us a sense of hope, of control of our destiny back to us. It’s the most sophisticated region in the world in terms of state cooperation, and where Europe leads others may follow.” 

Following the conclusion of the Symposium, five key proposals were identified by the experts present: 1) Europe to speak with one voice in climate negotiations; 2) a shared European vision for energy governance; 3) preventing climate justice from being an afterthought; 4) effective post-2020 targets and reform of the EU Emissions Trading System; 5) and Southern European countries playing an important role.

LSE’s European Politics and Policy (EUROPP) blog has a dedicated forum for articles related to the themes of the Symposium, which can be found at Further information, photos, videos and all papers from the Symposium can be viewed at